Wednesday, June 24, 2009

kids these days

I'm on a bus on the way to Granada. As I was making my way toward the back of the bus, I was wondering why so many of the other passengers were crammed in the front of the bus.

Now I know.

I am back here with 4 teenagers and their cell phones, which are powerful and frightening weapons. Occasionally the teens talk on the phone, but that doesn't cause any particular problems. The problem is that they play really loud music on horrible, tinny cellphone speakers. Even if they put on headphones, the music is unbearable, and they sing along. Every once in awhile they want to talk to each other, so they turn down the speaker and yell, probably because they have such damaged hearing.

I had this experience once before, on a train in France. Last time I just stewed and shot dirty looks. This time, I jovially asked them not to use the speakers. It didn't work. One of them switched to headphones, but those seemed even worse. I could hear the music just as well, and he sang even more loudly.

Spanish rap sounds ridiculous, only slightly more ridiculous than Spanish teenagers trying to sing along with English rap. I think the ones currently annoying me might be Italians, though it could just be that Catalonian accent everyone is always warning me about.

Yes, I know I sound old.

Before I got on the bus, I didn't know whether it was three or four or five hours. I still don't know, but I'm counting every minute. Granada better be good. Really good.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

making a run for the border

I have a habit of walking purposefully in a direction, as though I know where I'm going. I don't want to appear lost or confused, so I pick a direction and start walking.

I did it this morning. I left the bus station of La Linea, which is the Spanish town bordering Gibraltar. There weren't any signs pointing to Gibraltar, so I just turned right and started walking. After a block or two, I decided to ask someone if I was going in the right direction. He pointed the opposite way from where I was headed. I turned around and saw an enormous rock hiding in the mist.

Right. That way.

trains, planes, and automobiles

I'm on the move again.

Since May, I have taken a plane to London, another plane to Lyon, two trains to Le Puy, two trains from Le Puy back to Lyon, three trains to Barcelona, a bus to Toulouse, a rental car to Villefranche, three trains to Pamplona, my feet to Estella, a bus to San Sebastian, a bus to Bilbao, a plane to Sevilla, a bus to Tarifa, and today I will take two buses and a short walk over the border to Gibraltar.

Tomorrow I plan to take two buses to Granada, though I have no idea of the hours and departure points and costs.

This is the kind of trip I try to avoid: endless shifting without staying planted in any one place long enough to know it or appreciate it beyond just the major monuments. I have hit my stride, though. I am feeling more comfortable with moving from place to place. It isn't exactly as I planned, but I'm learning something. So that's something.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

can't touch this

I regret to inform my American audience that hammer pants are very much in style in Spain. You think the swine flu is contagious? Wait until you see the saggy crotch epidemic that's about to hop the pond.

a privilege and a responsibility

Today, as with most days, I had every good intention of spending time writing. I always manage to find something else to do, though. I wander around whatever town I am in, plan the upcoming parts of my trip, chat in Spanish with locals, read. These all count as productive activities, so I don't have to feel guilty for not making good use of my time and my wee computer.

Of the three unread books I have with me, I selected On Bullfighting to serve as my breakfast companion this morning. I purchased it largely because it was one of 50 or so available English books, had a cool cover, and was endorsed by Jeannette Winterson. Since I wasn't going to attend a bullfight, I thought I may as well read about it. It felt like a bit of a duty rather than a pleasure, though. When I bought it, I secretly thought that I would have good intentions to educate myself but would end up reading the trashy mystery that is based in Sevilla (which counts as somewhat educational since it is set where I bought it) or even the Spanish book (which is waterproof and lends itself to reading while floating in the sea).

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the book is a weird combination memoir/non-fiction account. Odd because the writer is reflecting on her own experiences as a person and a writer, even though these have no direct relation to bullfighting. I find non-fiction more interesting when I can hear the writer's own voice. So I was reading and eating my crepes and I came upon a passage in which Kennedy talks about her trip to Granada. Since I am voyaging to Granada in two days, I paid special attention. The author refers to poet Federico Garcia Lorca; my friend told me to read a recent New Yorker article about him before going to Granada.

I lingered over breakfast and read Kennedy's' musings on Lorca's execution in 1936 by Nationalists, She is moved that Lorca died for his art and links it to her own weaknesses as a writer, saying, "I also think that if I had any backbone I would write as best I can, because of the silenced dead, because writing is a privilege and also a responsibility."

Then I closed the book, payed the bill, and climbed up to the rooftop deck of Hostal Africa in Tarifa, Spain and gazed out over the meeting of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, at the Rock of Gibraltar and the haze of Morocco, and I started to write.

Bs (ahem)

I tried to make plans to watch a Bullfight in Barcelona with my Boyfriend on my Birthday--and not just because of allure of the alliteration. For a number of reasons, it didn't work out. One B at a time:

B #1: Barcelona
I learned that bullfights in Barcelona are notoriously uninspired and touristy. Barcelona is Catalonia, and depending on who you talk to, Catalonia is not Spain and does not care to carry out Spanish traditions like the bullfight. It would be sort of like going to a lobsterbake in Utah. Or a jazz festival in Connecticut. You could do it, and it might be pretty good, but why bother?

B #2: Boyfriend.
My boyfriend's response to the idea was, "I don't want to go to a bullfight. Just because I'm in Mississippi doesn't mean I am going to attend a lynching." Hmmm. I wonder if we'll be in CT during the jazz festival . . .

B #3: Birthday.
I still contend that it would be a memorable way to spend a birthday.

B #4
I was sort of relieved when my boyfriend refused. I don't think I really wanted to go at all, but I am curious. When walking across Spain, I noticed that nearly every little smoky bar in every tiny town has gatherings of old men watching bullfighting on tv. It inrigued me. I would sip my Cola Cao and try to figure out just what they were looking at. Sort of how I feel when people in the U.S. watch golf or bowling. Or when a toddler is staring and pointing and I follow the gaze and find nothing there.

Anyhow, once I got the old men talking, I could barely understand them because there was so much vocabulary and nuance involved in the whole thing. I wanted to condemn the sport, but I didn't understand it well enough to do so.

I think that's how I feel about much of traveling. If I don't understand some cultural phenomenon, if it disgusts and alarms me, I need to try to participate in it, especially if it makes me uncomfortable. That isn't always true. I won't be performing any female circumcisions or foot binding, but there are ways I could push myself. Still, where does the line between respecting a culture end and basic morality begin? And if you can answer that, can we apply for some kind of patent or copyright together?

But really, that's the joy of traveling for me--facing the discomfort and acknowledging when I can't endure it and figuring out what the balance is. When I should be tolerant, when I shouldn't.

One day, I'll go to a bullfight. I'll probably be disgusted with the event and with myself, but at least I'll know why.